Why would an infected toe lead to an amputation?

A masked Bert Newton in his hospital bed last year. (Instagram)

Recently in the news we have learnt Bert Newton has had his leg amputated as a result of an infected toe. Doctors reportedly told Bert Newton last week that amputating the leg would save his life, but keeping the leg would mean he’d have just ‘months to live’.

How could an infection of a measly toe lead to the loss of one’s leg you ask?

Our body’s immune system together with prescribed antibiotics will typically clear an infection in the body. However underlying health conditions such as high blood sugar levels, high cholesterol, high blood pressure can lead to damage of the artery walls – they can become thickened and blocked thus reducing the amount of healthy blood to the feet also reducing your healing ability.This is known as Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD).

Often a person with PAD will complain of aching or cramping in the legs when trying to walk a certain distance (eg. 40 meters). This is often the first sign that there might be an issue with bloody supply to the legs and feet. This condition is known as intermittent claudication, and if you are experiencing this, it is important to discuss this with your Podiatrist and/or GP. When PAD occurs in the legs, the healing of any break to the skin on the feet can be delayed increasing the risk of infection and ultimately gangrene in the worst cases. One of the early signs of poor circulation to the legs, is cramping in the legs when walking.

Gangrene is the dying of healthy tissue. It can be treated early if debrided away and antibiotics used. Gangrene can lead to sepsis and eventual death in the body unless cutaway to a point where the exposed amputation site has enough blood flow to heal.

Once the amputation site has healed patients will undergo psychological and physical therapy to adapt to a new normal. Prostheses (artificial limbs) are created to help the amputee walk and sometimes even run again!

Podiatrists are trained to assess the circulation to the feet BEFORE an injury can escalate to amputation. We use a Doppler Ultrasound machine to help identify if any problems with blood flow to the feet and legs are present. During a vascular assessment if there is an issue detected with your circulation you may be referred on for an angiogram, or x-ray of the blood vessels.

A Podiatrist conducting a vascular assessment in clinic using a Doppler Ultrasound.

Some helpful tips to prevent injury to the leg and feet are….

  • Always protect your feet from by wearing good supportive shoes
  • Do not walk around barefoot if you have poor blood supply
  • Make sure your shoes are the correct size for your feet
  • have this checked by a podiatrist if you are unsure if your shoes are the correct fit
  • Inspect your feet everyday
  • use a mirror to see the soles of the feet if you can’t reach them

See us at Sole Podiatry immediately if you have a corn, ingrown nail, ulcer, non-healing wounds, grazes or cuts to the feet

  • Do not self treat corns or calluses at home
  • DO NOT use medicated corn pads
  • Only have your feet attended to by a qualified podiatrist
  • Maintain healthy blood sugar levels see your GP on a regular basis for a more in-depth blood test
  • Do not do not smoke – smoking restricts blood flow through vasoconstriction
  • Exercise regularly – to encourage good blood flow
  • Maintain a healthy balanced diet

We wish Mr Newton and his family all the best with his recovery.

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